As the coronavirus pandemic slowly unfolds and absorbs us all with the hardships it is causing, it has given rise to hope and many new opportunities for the world of entrepreneurship. Innovation ecosystems have the potential to go global and engage people the world over with a newfound connectivity. New cultures, new markets, new business partners are all opening up in this world of new possibilities, enabled by technologies designed to overcome physical distancing. In keeping apart, we are now discovering that what was far, is now near.

As traditional businesses come to a standstill, transportation networks run dry, and physical distancing is the norm, a new kind of innovation ecosystem is poised to take birth. As people discover technologies that enable them to connect with each other, even though they are physically apart; and work together in meaningful economic activities, it is becoming apparent that borders have been artificial all along. Digital trade, that has overcome many borders in its evolution, has now come to the forefront.

The coronavirus, for one, does not know any borders.

Electrical grids continue to hum, internet cables lying on ocean beds continue to route millions of information packets globally, satellites are constantly beaming information up and down, and the globe is buzzing with connectivity. This connectivity is opportunity.

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Students at North Dakota State University are working eagerly to tap into these opportunities, especially with global ramifications. As a faculty fellow in the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth, I am working with architecture and landscape architecture students on leveraging the conditions brought about by this pandemic for the good.

Students are seeking cohorts in developing economies to work on software projects for the design professions in these developing economies. Among the global partners being sought are educational institutions, such as the C.A.R.E. School of Architecture and Navrachana University, and nonprofit organizations such as the Nudge Foundation in India. Efforts are also planned to engage institutions and organizations in Africa as well. The students hope to market these software products through digital trade and are studying the potential and limitations of what digital trade offers.

Using the concept of an e-pal, and exploiting technologies such as videoconferencing, email, wikis and websites, students will develop partnerships with global cohorts. They will engage each other’s cultures, each other’s markets and economies, and collaboratively develop software solutions for the design professions in these developing economies. This development activity will open new markets for the students, who are also being encouraged to develop their projects as entrepreneurial ventures. The students will be required to take part in NDSU’s Innovation Challenge in the fall semester and showcase their entrepreneurial ventures.

In this climate of uncertainty, our goal is to stay positive and foster global connectivity, invent economic opportunities based on this connectivity, contribute to the design professions, create a brotherhood that is beyond borders and show once and for all that it takes a village, and that the village is global.